Angie Heo: The Political Lives of Saints. Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt

On March 2, 2018 Angie Heo delivered a talk in our visiting seminar titled “The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt”. We later conducted a brief interview with her.

Photo: Angie Heo

Photo iconography for the Libya Martyrs in the village of ‘Aur in Minya. Honored by the Coptic Church, the Libya Martyrs are the twenty-one migrant laborers who were killed by ISIS in February 2015.

Below is the abstract of the above mentioned talk:

From the Arab uprisings in 2011 to ISIS’s rise in 2014, Egypt’s Copts have been at the center of anxious rhetorics around the politics of Christian-Muslim coexistence in the Middle East. Despite the unprecedented levels of violence they have suffered in recent years, the current predicament of Copts signals more durable structures of church and state authoritarianism that challenge the ahistorical kernel of persecution politics and Islamophobia.

This talk examines the political lives of saints to specify the role that religion has played in the making of national unity and sectarian conflict in Egypt since the 1952 coup. Based on years of fieldwork throughout Egypt, it argues that the public imaginary of saints – the Virgin, martyrs (ancient and contemporary), miracle-workers – has served as a key site of mediating social relations between Christians and Muslims. It further delves into the material aesthetics of Orthodox Christianity to grasp how saintly imaginings broker ties of sacrifice across faiths, reconfigure sacred territory in times of war, and present threats to public order and national security. Above all, it draws attention to the ways in which an authoritarian politics of sainthood shores up Christian-Muslim unity in the aftermath of war, revolution and coup. In doing so, this talk directly counters recurrent and prevalent invocations of Christianity’s impending extinction in the Arab Muslim world.

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